Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 198

Presidents Boris Yeltsin of Russia, Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus, Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, and Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan held yesterday in Moscow a meeting of the Interstate Council of the CIS Customs Union (CU). Those four countries comprise its membership. (See Monitor, October 22) Following pre-summit admission that the CU exists only on paper, the presidents yesterday signed a document on "priority targets in fulfilling the March 29, 1996 treaty" — the founding treaty of the CU. They also decided in principle, without a timetable, to turn the territory of their four countries into one "free trade zone."

The presidents agreed to instruct their governments and the CU central staff to prepare by the end of 1997, for consideration next year, draft agreements on: introducing common customs tariffs in the four countries; unification of national tariff legislation; coordination of nontariff trade regulations in the four countries; and a list of goods subject to such regulations. By the end of this year the four countries should draft a protocol on a common approach to their negotiations with the World Trade Organization for admission to it. Hinting at differences, Nazarbaev stated that the presidents need a "time-out" before meeting again on December 18 to resume the discussions. (Russian agencies, October 22)

The desired agreement on common customs tariffs will be needed first in order to clear the way for the other agreements. The introduction of a list of goods limits from the outset the scope of common regulations, leaving loopholes for exemptions dictated by individual countries’ interests. The envisaged protocol would by definition be nonbinding. The nature of the proposed agreements, the vague timetable, and the seemingly scant attention to national interests seem to presage the continuing ineffectiveness of the CU.

Organizational Measures.